Law Student Limelight: Asia Thompson of New York Law School

Getting through law school can be a challenge for all types of students, even for those who do not have much in the way of responsibilities outside of their academic programs. Asia Thompson is thriving in her third year at New York Law School while raising two kids on her own and maintaining a commitment to her externship and extracurricular passions. The challenges of Thompson’s early life pushed her towards a legal education and a desire to continue public service after her graduation. Her path to a law degree is surely an uncommon one, but it reflects the type of spirit and diversity of experience for which New York Law School is always searching.

Lawdragon: Can you talk a bit about your life and educational background before you got to law school?

Asia Thompson: I attended three different high schools in New Jersey, however I graduated from Bloomfield High School in Essex County. I then earned my B.A. in English/Creative Writing at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pennsylvania. At Misericordia I was a part of the Ruth Matthews Bourger Women with Children Program, which was a wonderful experience that allowed me the rare opportunity, as a single mother, to be a full time student while living on campus with my children. I balanced raising my two kids with my schoolwork and working jobs in between my classes, some nights, and weekends. I also managed to have internships during college, including with a U.S. Senator, and also participated as an Expert on Poverty with a nonprofit out of D.C. called RESULTS. I also was able to serve as the President of my school’s chapter of Sigma Tau Delta (the National English Honors Society) and was also awarded Most Outstanding Adult Learner of my graduating class. Currently, I am 27 years old and a 3L student at New York Law School.

LD: What formative experiences were critical to the path your education took?

AT: Growing up I was always good at arguing my position and people often told me I should become a lawyer; I always liked the idea of following this path. As I grew up and life started to throw difficult circumstances my way, I felt that this plan might be an impossibility for me. You see, by the time I was 18 years old I was struggling to flee an abusive relationship while also raising two young children. I did not have many resources, became food insecure, and at times homeless. It was going through these times, looking into the eyes of my babies, that I knew that I couldn’t just let me dreams go that easily. I had to get free, and I had to do something that I could be proud of – if not for myself, then certainly for my children.

I was eventually able to get into a college that offered me many invaluable opportunities, including an ability for me to bring my children with me to college, in a safe place far removed from the circumstances that I had found myself trapped. So, my children and I moved to Northeastern Pennsylvania to start a new life, and I was able to find myself and reignite my passions. Overcoming challenges in my personal life has undoubtedly inspired me to pursue a career where I can be a voice for people who feel silenced, ignored, or voiceless in hopes of helping them feel heard, seen, and valued as people.

LD: What else about your college experience pushed you towards the law?

AT: College helped restore my self-confidence and value which directly affected my pursuit of becoming an advocate and a lawyer. As a college student, I became involved in community outreach work with nonprofits and lobbying in D.C. for the protection of legislation around antipoverty safety-net programs. Many legislators don’t have real-life experience with poverty or these types of programs. I do, as do millions of Americans. Legislators should know what the true faces of these programs look like, and how these programs actually work in people’s lives. So, I learned to use my voice to speak for the millions who can’t go to D.C. and see their elected officials face to face. I’ve also been able to have the opportunity to teach others how to share their stories with the press and with elected officials as a way of advocating for policy changes by making their voices heard.

During college I was able to speak publicly on stories of poverty, food insecurity, and the importance of helping people on many platforms at many local, national, and international conferences. I also worked with press to share stories of poverty and food insecurity, including with The New York Times, Talk Poverty, and many other media outlets. Doing this work fortified my passion for helping people through the act of advocacy. I knew that a law degree would give me the tools to make an even greater impact.

LD: Did you go straight from college to law school? If not, what did you do in between, and why?

AT: I took a semester off before enrolling at NYLS. During that time, I continued to do a lot of community outreach with a RESULTS Educational Fund. I ran various community workshops, including one at a homeless shelter in New Jersey where my children and I had lived a few years earlier. It was important for me to try to give back to a place that had helped change the trajectory of my life.

LD: Why did you end up going with NYLS? What factors were critical in your decision-making?          

AT: Visiting NYLS and meeting people here was an important part of my decision. I’m very people-oriented, and the faculty, staff, and students at NYLS made it feel like home. NYLS’s campus is also close to many courthouses and government offices. I knew that if I wanted to work in New York, this was the place to be. It was also really attractive to me that NYLS had criminal prosecution and criminal defense clinics, as well as simulation courses for criminal litigation, including courses like Advocacy of Criminal Cases, which simulates an entire criminal case from indictment to summation. Since I had not had any legal experience, I knew that it was important for me to have the ability to get as much hands on experience as possible.

LD: Is there a part of the application process that was the most difficult or most memorable? What advice would you give other people considering law school?

AT: The LSAT was daunting, and the application process as a whole can become quite overwhelming. My advice would be to breathe and just take each step of the process as it comes, it’ll all work out in the end.

LD: What do you plan on doing with your law degree? If you’re uncertain, what are some plausible paths for you?

AT: During the past two years, I’ve been drawn to public defense work. Since May, I’ve been working as an intern with the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender, in the Appellate Division as well as the Conviction Integrity Unit; I’m very engaged in my work here. I took classes full-time during my 1L summer, so this year was my first chance to do an internship, and I truly couldn’t enjoy it more. In fact, I loved it so much that I carried it over into the Fall semester.

I’m most interested in criminal defense appellate work and post-conviction work. This field fits my temperament well. I love the intellectual aspects of appellate work: reading hundreds of pages of cases, dissecting them, and writing with care and precision. That’s more my speed than the constant pace of trial work, and I still get to build personal relationships with clients. I can also help clients have a voice and tell their stories, especially with post-conviction work. That plays to my desire to help people feel they are heard and recognized.

LD: Where geographically do you think you want to end up working?

AT: The New Jersey Office of the Public Defender is in Newark, New Jersey. Fingers crossed; I would love to be offered the opportunity to stay there for the foreseeable future. Also, my kids are still quite young, so I would like to keep things geographically consistent for them.

LD: What has surprised you about law school so far?

AT: I expected to like my criminal law courses. I didn’t think I would enjoy Property and Contracts, but they’ve turned out to be some of my best classes. I’ve learned that every aspect of the law has interesting features and offers a unique way to help people.

LD: Can you discuss any coursework or law clinic experiences that you have especially enjoyed or found particularly challenging?

AT: I enjoyed Advocacy of Criminal Cases, which is a trial simulation course that uses a mock criminal case. After that course, I understood so much more about how the criminal process works. I also loved Constitutional Law II because it was so hands-on and focused on how the Constitution is applied. I am someone who sees the Constitution as a living, breathing document, and it was interesting to have respectful discourse with people who think differently than me on that issue.

LD: What extracurricular activities at law school have been occupying your time?

AT: In my spare time, which is pretty limited due to law school and being a single parent, I have tried to continue my anti-poverty advocacy work as much as possible. I’ve spoken at conferences, including serving as keynote speaker at the Pathways Out of Poverty Conference this past May. I’m also the Treasurer for NYLS’s Domestic Violence Project and a member of the NYLS Black Law Student Association.  I’ve also continued to work with the media, including Bustle, to share stories of poverty and food insecurity.

LD: How do you unwind from the stresses of law school? Are there any tips about your campus, or its city or town, that you would share with new students?

AT: I like to buy a tea and a macaroon and walk down Worth Street to the open area next to the federal courts. I’ll sit there and just enjoy the moment. Most of the time, though, I’m running around with my kids and balancing school, work, and everything else. If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s that five good minutes of quiet is very valuable within a busy life. I can get a lot of peace just by pausing and just being still for a moment.

LD: If a potential employer were reading this profile, what’s the one thing you would want that person or institution to know about you?

AT: Probably that I am very passionate and hard working. But what I’m proudest of is my ability to persevere, even when things feel impossible to overcome. I am proud that I am able to come out of really difficult times not only a stronger person, but also still full of hope.